Food allergies and intolerances

Food allergies and food intolerance's can be unpleasant, complicated and cause death, however they can be managed, to improve quality of life. Below is information on managing food allergies and intolerance, especially when food shopping or eating out, and information on how to make a complaint about an undeclared allergen in food.

If you are a food business looking for allergen management information,  visit allergen information for food businesses or the FSANZ Allergen Portal.

Food allergy = Immune system reaction to a food

A food allergy causes the immune system to react to a particular food with immediate symptoms, such as itchiness, rash and swelling. Sometimes a reaction can be so severe that it can trigger a life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis.


  • low blood pressure, dizziness, faintness or collapse
  • swelling of the lips and throat, nausea and feeling bloated
  • diarrhoea, and vomiting
  • dry, itchy throat and tongue, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath and a runny or blocked nose
  • itchy skin or a rash, hives and sore, red and itchy eyes.

In an emergency, call 000 to seek immediate medical attention.

A severe food allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis affects the whole body, often within minutes of eating the food. Symptoms such as rapid spreading of hives, swelling of the face, tongue and throat, difficulty breathing, wheezing, vomiting and loss of consciousness are common signs of an anaphylactic attack.

Immediate treatment with injected adrenaline can be lifesaving.

If you have been prescribed an adrenaline/epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen®), keep it with you at all times.

Food intolerance = Inability to digest a food

Food intolerance doesn’t involve the immune system. Food intolerance is an adverse reaction to a particular food due to an inability for the body to properly digest a substance in the food. The symptoms can be unpleasant and in some cases severe, but are generally not life-threatening.


  • stomach and bowel upsets
  • bloating
  • headaches and migraines
  • wheezing and a runny nose
  • hives
  • generally feeling under the weather.

Coeliac disease

Coeliac disease is a disorder of the small bowel caused by an immune reaction to gluten, a protein found in cereals such as wheat, barley and rye. It is not a food allergy, but it is an auto-immune disease. In coeliac disease, the lining of the bowel is damaged by the white blood cells of the immune system and not by antibodies (as in food allergic reactions).


  • nausea
  • wind
  • tiredness
  • constipation
  • reduced growth
  • skin problems.

Packaged foods can make a gluten-free claim on its product label if it contains no detectable gluten. See Gluten-free claims in packaged foods for more details.

If you think you have a food allergy or intolerance, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis from a qualified medical practitioner.

Food shopping

Packaged food – what to look for on a label

The Food Standards Code requires that certain allergens are declared on labels, even when if they are a small part of an ingredient or processing aid:

  • crustaceans
  • fish
  • molluscs
  • eggs
  • milk
  • peanuts
  • tree nuts including almond, Brazil nut, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia, pecan, pine nut, pistachio and walnut (each nut must be declared separately)
  • soybeans
  • sesame seeds
  • wheat (except when present in beer or spirits or glucose syrups that have been refined to reduce the gluten protein content to below 20mg/kg), and gluten if present
  • barley, oats and rye, and gluten if present
  • lupin
  • Sulphites (if added in concentrations of 10 mg/kg or more).

Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, in association with the NSW Food Authority and  Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), has produced allergen ingredient cards that list foods and ingredients you should avoid if you are allergic to milk, peanuts, eggs, fish, tree nuts, sesame, soybean, mollusc, crustacea, wheat or lupin.

Print free copies of these cards are available on the Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia website or can be ordered by calling 1300 728 000.

If you have a food allergy or intolerance or shop for someone who does, it’s important to carefully check the label on any pre-packed food you buy.

Tip: Check the ingredients every time you buy a product, the recipe might have changed since last purchase

NOTE: Edible insects are an emerging food trend – The presence of chitin may have an effect on people who are sensitive to crustacea. See the Allergen Bureau's media release for more information. 

Ingredients lists

As of February 2024, allergens must be declared on labels:

  • Using the required name
  • In the ingredients list in
  • In a summary “Contains” statement in bold next to the ingredients list

Always check the ingredients list carefully. All ingredients must be listed on the labels of pre-packaged foods.

'May contain' statements

Some food labels may also have warnings to show the food may contain allergens e.g. ‘may contain traces of nuts’. This means that even if nuts aren’t deliberately included as ingredients in the food, the manufacturer cannot be sure the food doesn’t accidentally contain small amounts of the allergen.

If you are allergic to any of the foods mentioned in ‘may contain’ warnings, you should avoid these food products.

Tip: You can call food manufacturers and ask about ingredients or manufacturing processes if you are unsure about a product.

What you should do if you think a food has been incorrectly labelled

SA Health is responsible for ensuring that packaged foods containing undeclared allergens are removed promptly from the South Australian marketplace.

If you think a packaged food has been incorrectly labelled, or an allergen has not been declared, complete our online food complaints form or email us at and provide the following information:

  • a description of the problem (allergic reaction or noting that an undeclared allergen is visible in the product)
  • product name, size, date mark (e.g. use by, best before) and batch code (if present)
  • name and full street address of the business on the label
  • when and where you purchased the product
  • photos of the product and packaging
  • your contact details
  • keep any leftover food, packaging and receipts.

SA Health has powers under the Food Act 2001 and the Food Standards Code to investigate labelling complaints and take action against food businesses breaking the law.

The majority of recalls in Australia are due to undeclared allergens in packaged foods. Visit the FSANZ recall page for up to date information.

Gluten-free claims

A claim on a product label is known as a nutrition content claim. A gluten-free claim can only be included on a product label if the product contains no detectable gluten. See Gluten-free claims in packaged foods for more information.

Unlabelled foods

Consumers are legally entitled to ask for information about the presence of allergens in foods for sale that are unpackaged but not labelled, for example, foods purchased from a bakery, butcher or deli counter in a supermarket.

When buying pre-made, unpackaged food (e.g. from a bakery, butcher, deli, salad bar) it’s possible that this food could contain small amounts of allergens in the ingredients. The allergens may have also been introduced to these products through cross contamination e.g. contact with another food, knife, spoon that touched another food containing an allergen. If unsure, ask the staff who serve you about their allergen control measures.

If you have a severe food allergy, you should always disclose your allergy clearly, ask about ingredients and never make presumptions about food content. You should always have your emergency medication with you.

Allergies and eating out

Eating a meal from a restaurant, café or takeaway can be a stressful experience if you have a food allergy or intolerance. When food is prepared by someone else you can’t be absolutely sure that it won’t contain allergens. There are however some guidelines to make eating out safer:

Tell the restaurant

  • When you book a table, tell the person taking the booking about your food allergy or intolerance and ask them to check with the chef that they can provide you with a meal that doesn’t contain the allergen.
  • On arrival, make sure the waiter knows about your food allergy.

Ask about the dishes

  • Read the menu carefully to see if there is any mention of the food you are allergic to in the name or description of your meal.
  • Always ask staff to check that the food allergen is not in the meal you order as food allergens are not always stated on menus.
  • Give staff your order and ask them to check with the chef that the dish does not contain the allergen. Speak to the chef personally if you can.
  • If the staff can’t answer your questions or don’t seem certain, it’s better to order something else or eat elsewhere.

Ask about cross contamination

  • Ask staff if your food will be prepared with equipment and utensils that are separate to those used for foods containing the allergen.
  • Don’t assume because you ate a dish safely in one restaurant that it will be made the same way the next time or in a different restaurant.

Avoid self-service areas

  • If you have a severe allergy, it’s best to avoid eating food from a self-service area or buffet. It’s easy for small amounts of allergenic ingredients to get into food accidentally (e.g. people might use the same spoons for different dishes) so even if it looks safe, you can’t be sure.

Take your Epipen®

  • If you have been prescribed an adrenaline/epinephrine autoinjector (EpiPen®) and you don’t have it with you, DO NOT EAT! Studies have shown prompt administration of your adrenaline autoinjector is the first line first aid treatment for anaphylaxis.

More tips for eating out with food allergies can be found on the Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia website.

Acknowledgments to NSWFA and Anaphylaxis Australia for the information provided on this page.

If you disclosed your allergy, but were served a meal that caused a reaction complete our online food complaints form, email us at or contact the Environmental Health Officer at the local council where there business is located.